What Do Emperor Penguins Eat?

The Emperor Penguin is the largest species of penguin alive on Earth today. They reside exclusively in Antarctica and can weigh up to 40kg!

In contrast to many other species of penguins who feed on surface prey, these impressive penguins can dive to depths of 1500 feet underwater to feed on a much wider variety of sea creatures, including krill, silverfish, and squids.

Discover how Emperor penguins hunt, which sea creatures comprise the majority of their diet, and how swallowing stones can aid a healthy digestive system.

What Do Emperor Penguins Eat?

Most penguins feed on krill, a shrimp-like crustacean that belongs to the Euphausiidae family. However, to reduce competition between penguin species, each carries a unique preference that brings variety to their diets.

The Emperor penguin – the largest of all the species – can dive to impressive depths and hold its breath underwater for up to 30 minutes. This makes it the perfect candidate for preying on squid and fish.

Emperor penguins do not consume any plants from the Earth or sea because their body requires them to store excess fat supplies to see them through the breeding season. A study by Antarctic Science found that 78% of Emperor penguins’ diet (by mass) consists of fish. And the Antarctic Silverfish can make up to 89% of their overall fish intake. 

While specific amounts vary by season, crustaceans generally comprise around 10% of the Emperor penguin’s diet and squid even less. The foods that Emperor penguins eat are:

  • Fish
  • Krill
  • Squids
  • Amphipods
  • Crustaceans

How Do Emperor Penguins Hunt For Food?

When hunting, Emperor penguins depend on their excellent sense of sight. And the bioluminescence of several ocean fishes and crustaceans can help them to see their prey much more clearly.

The Emperor Penguin has a streamlined body for fast and effective swimming. They can swim at speeds of up to 10kph (twice the speed of a professional human swimmer), and they can dive to impressive depths of 1500 ft – that’s almost 500 meters!

Other physical characteristics that help the Emperor penguin catch its prey include a strong jaw, fish-catching beak, and spiny tongue (to keep a grip on prey). And solid bones mean they can withstand ocean waves as they hunt for aquatic treats.

How Much Do Emperor Penguins Eat?

An adult Emperor penguin consumes around 2-3kg of food daily. Still, on a good day when plentiful food is available, they can eat twice as much in order to store fat for the winter or the breeding season.

Why Do Emperor Penguins Swallow Stones?

Did you know that one Emperor penguin was discovered with 10lbs of stones in its stomach? It might seem odd, but king, rockhopper, and macaroni penguins have all been observed purposely swallowing stones – so what is going on here?

Some theories suggest that swallowing these stones may help reduce the penguins’ buoyancy while diving and minimize their hunger. 

These stones can also help to digest the food that Emperor penguins consume, particularly the exoskeletons of crustaceans, which are tough to break up but a vital part of their diet. The stones help increase the food’s surface area and enable the digestive enzymes to work better.

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